What Qualifies as a Criminal Street Gang in New York City?

What Qualifies as a Criminal Street Gang in New York City?

New York has strict laws regarding criminal street gangs. A gang is defined as a group of three or more people that engages in criminal activity or plans to engage in criminal acts. To prosecute someone under New York’s anti-gang laws, prosecutors must prove the group meets certain criteria.

Defining a Criminal Street Gang

There are a few key elements that define a street gang under New York law:

  • The group must have three or more members. If there are only one or two people, it does not qualify as a gang.
  • Members of the group engage in a pattern of criminal gang activity. This means they repeatedly commit crimes like drug trafficking, assault, robbery, etc.
  • The group has some permanency and structure. There is some hierarchy, leadership roles, or rules that members follow. A loosely affiliated group committing sporadic crimes would not qualify.
  • The group operates in a particular location or territory. This could be a neighborhood, public housing complex, park, etc. where they frequently commit crimes.

All of these elements must be present for a group to be prosecuted as a criminal street gang in NYC.

Common NYC Gangs Prosecuted Under These Laws

Some of the most well-known gangs in New York that have been targeted using anti-gang statutes include:

  • MS-13
  • Bloods
  • Crips
  • Latin Kings
  • Ñetas
  • Gangster Disciples
  • Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation

These groups clearly meet the definition of a criminal street gang under New York law. They have numerous documented members, engage in drug and weapons trafficking, commit violent crimes against rivals, and control territory in certain boroughs.

Gang Membership vs Gang Activity

An important distinction in New York law is the difference between gang membership and criminal gang activity. Under the law:

  • It is not illegal to simply be in a gang. Law enforcement cannot arrest or charge someone solely for being a gang member without evidence of criminal activity.
  • What is illegal is participating in felony crimes with a gang to benefit the gang. If there is evidence someone committed a felony act that somehow furthers the gang’s drug trafficking, turf wars, etc., they can be charged.

So merely hanging out with known gang members or wearing certain colors is not enough without evidence of criminal activity. There must be an identifiable crime committed in association with a gang to prosecute someone under criminal street gang laws.

Penalties for Gang Assault and Other Crimes

New York has enhancement statutes that create stiffer penalties for gang-related crime. For example:

  • Gang Assault 1st Degree: Class B violent felony, up to 25 years in prison
  • Gang Assault 2nd Degree: Class C violent felony, up to 15 years in prison

Other crimes like weapons trafficking, drug sales, robbery, rape, and murder can have penalties enhanced if committed for the benefit of a criminal street gang. These gang enhancements can add 3-15 years or more in prison for each count.

Defense Against Gang Membership Allegations

Fighting accusations of gang membership and gang-related crime charges requires an experienced criminal defense attorney. Some key strategies include:

  • Challenging evidence of gang affiliation – If the evidence of membership is weak, attorneys can fight to exclude prejudicial photos, statements, etc. Wearing certain clothing colors or symbols is not definitive proof.
  • Disputing criminal acts benefited a gang – The defense may argue the defendant committed an independent crime without direction from or proceeds going to a gang.
  • Seeking sentence reductions – If charges stick, lawyers can advocate for dropping the gang enhancements at sentencing since they drastically increase penalties.

Building a strong defense requires in-depth knowledge of New York gang laws. An attorney can carefully analyze the evidence and apply the correct criminal statutes to advocate for you or your loved one.

With severe gang assault penalties reaching 25+ years, it is critical to have an aggressive defense ready from day one when facing these allegations. For more advice and legal resources, check out the following related articles: